Wednesday Houlihans Jan 11th recap

This past week, we had Nathaniel Banks, Chuck Jackson and myself. I learned a bit and I hope I get most of it here.

One of the issues we discussed is the top-down management style prevalent in Unit 4 Administration. An example at Stratton was used whereby a majority of parent’s wanted to retain the longer school day, but the teachers (allegedly represented by the teachers union, the Champaign Federation of Teachers) did not. It sounds like the CFT approached Administration and eliminated the longer days. From what I hear, the parent’s were not involved in the decision making process at all. In another example, the CFT so constrained the hiring of particular support staff such that only a certified teacher could fill the position, and there is speculation that the position could have been better filled. Granted, I don’t have all the sides of the story. So please feel free to fill me in. Yet, we do observe these types of situations occurring – the Administration makes a decision, and presto-bingo, those are the new marching orders. I am also aware that a previous CFT President occasionally reads these posts…. just saying. 🙂

We talked a bit about the role of the ombudsperson, and how it is important for community members to have a safe place in which to release their opinions; not such much to air dirty laundry or rag about anything, but more to show that people are valuable and worth listening to, and to extract key issues from such sessions in which to present to the School District in the hopes of finding compromise or solutions. Comparisons were made to CARE3 and Community Citizens Concerned about Quality Education. I have heard a lot about CARE3, but I was never directly involved and it is difficult to find much information about them via google (although you can follow the rabbit trail to Mark Aber and Access Initiative). In retrospect, our little gathering at Houlihans is just one more example of a group of concerned people that want to make a positive impact on the community, one among many others. Which further makes me think, why is there not more collaboration? Why are we all so isolated?

My one action item is to talk to Wiegand about Grinnip. I am trying to think of how to phrase this. Allow me to diverge on a tangent briefly.

So we have UC2B being rolled out as we speak (you have probably seen crews laying out long orange tubes underground along streets). Unit 4 has made the single largest contribution towards UC2B, over and above the University of Illinois and other vested partners. This is amazing in and of itself. And with two strands of fiber, they will certainly have a heck of a lot of bandwidth. What are they going to do with it? Let us think about the purpose of UC2B (at least, what they publicly say about themselves):

“an open-access fiber-optic broadband network throughout the Champaign-Urbana area”

“This direct connectivity will enable improved access/support to health care, educational and recreational institutions, public safety and government agencies, and social service and religious organizations, as well as increased access to public computing centers. and a sustainable adoption and educational outreach program for vulnerable populations. Training, entertainment, and social networking opportunities will also be enhanced.”

There is a ton of information about UC2B online. Were is the Wiki entry? 🙂 Anyway, all this focus on bringing a fatter pipe to the internet to “anchor institutions” and various low-incoming housing. And it seems that the sole purpose is merely to “connect” them. I am bit confused why we need this. We have 0$ for computer literacy, but we have over 30$ million to lay down infrastructure and buy a bunch of really cool brand new toys. Interesting.

So bringing this back to Grinnip. All schools will be “connected” to this fat pipe. Unit 4 is planning to not provide public wi-fi. So here is what I propose first and foremost (in this context). Let’s have a sit-down chat with Grinnip and other folks in Unit 4 IT and with the parents of Unit 4 children, and let us, at the same table, figure out what is needed, what is desired and how to achieve those goals. Together.

Personally, I am bit tired of hearing about how we “need” UC2B – from my point of view, it seems like “we” are providing an answer to a question that has not been asked. We should be asking, “what do you need?” What problems are you facing, and what issues make your life rough?


7 Responses to “Wednesday Houlihans Jan 11th recap”

  1. Greg Novak Says:

    “One of the issues we discussed is the top-down management style prevalent in Unit 4 Administration. An example at Stratton was used whereby a majority of parent’s wanted to retain the longer school day, but the teachers (allegedly represented by the teachers union, the Champaign Federation of Teachers) did not. It sounds like the CFT approached Administration and eliminated the longer days. From what I hear, the parent’s were not involved in the decision making process at all. In another example, the CFT so constrained the hiring of particular support staff such that only a certified teacher could fill the position, and there is speculation that the position could have been better filled. Granted, I don’t have all the sides of the story. So please feel free to fill me in. Yet, we do observe these types of situations occurring – the Administration makes a decision, and presto-bingo, those are the new marching orders. I am also aware that a previous CFT President occasionally reads these posts…. just saying”.

    I dislike using the term – “them’s fighting words” but in this case looking at the above paragraph it’s the truth on the misstatements made as facts.

    Specific issues

    “Allegedly represented by the teachers union, the Champaign Federation of Teachers”

    – what does this mean? The CFT won its representation in an election – continues to elect its membership – and can be challenged by members if they so choose to wish to have a different group represent them. That’s how the CFT got the job from the old CEA back in 1979 – the teachers voted to change representatives.

    “It sounds like the CFT approached Administration and eliminated the longer days.”

    The Administration proposed ending the longer day as a cost cutting measure to save money, as there was no evidence that the longer day was having any impact on student achievement. The District/School Board made it part of the contract talks with the CFT – and given the choice between cutting the longer day at Stratton – or having four teaching positions cut to make up the difference – the CFT agreed to it. The teachers at Stratton were NOT happy – and protested at a School Board meeting – as well as voted against the teacher contract.

    “In another example, the CFT so constrained the hiring of particular support staff such that only a certified teacher could fill the position, and there is speculation that the position could have been better filled.”

    Some details please on this statement of fact? The CFT does not control the hiring of staff, nor the placement of staff within buildings. Numerous time in my past I have dealt with teachers who were unhappy about where their principal had placed them for the next school year – and I got to explain to an upset person that a teacher can be assigned to any job in a building that they are certified for – and it’s the choice of the principal. If a principal wants to move a teacher with 20 years experience at 1st grade to 5th grade – that is legal.

    The one thing that the CFT for teaching positions only can do is ensure that new jobs are posted – and that new terms of employment are negotiated. However the administration fills all jobs. If a non-certified person is put in a teaching job – that’s another issue – but it takes the district into conflict with the state board of education – not the CFT.

    In my opinion, administrators have always found groups like the CFT to be more than convenient scapegoats – because they can always blame a failing or decision on “the union”, and no one asks any more questions, because “the union” caused the problems.

    For the record, since the CFT proposed the longer school day at Stratton – and expected it to be used for additional instruction – the CFT was disappointed that the extra time was used for “enrichment” As then president of the CFT – I pushed the reconstitution of Stratton through – only to be very disappointed in the teachers who were hired there. I had pushed for a strong group of experienced teachers – what the district hired were for the most part new teachers – with the result that over the first four years there was a 100% turnover of staff.

    The CFT did all it could do to make Stratton a success – I can’t say the same for the administration of the school board.

    My. 02


  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    Greg, thanks for dropping by. I sincerely appreciate your input and willingness to engage in conversation about this particular topic.

    When I say “allegedly”, I mean that this is something I heard and I do not know to be a fact first-hand. What I was trying to convey was that the teachers wanted a shorter day (or course, teachers are very busy, it makes sense) and the CFT went to bat for them (which also makes sense). I just did not know, first hand, that these were facts.

    The details you have provided about how the District approached the CFT and they worked out a deal, despite the protest of the teachers, I find quite interesting (again, this is all hear-say to me, and I hope I am summarizing what you said correctly). If we assume that the there were only two options (in an absolute sense), one of cutting teaching positions or shortening the day, then it seems to me that the CFT made a good choice in going with the shorter day, since their job is to protect teachers’ jobs. Why would the teachers protest that? That is confusing to me. And I have to ask, at what point does it matter what the community thinks? What about all the parents and how they are affected? It is one thing if the District were to have gone to the PTA, sent out letters, and/or held a community forum in the name of having a discussion and collaborating towards a solution, but completely something else if the District only turned to one entity and gave them a tough choice to make.

    As to the other “statement”, allow me to first say that I am passing along more hear-say – I do not know these things to be true based on my own first-hand knowledge. So I will ask, “Was a person who is not a certified teacher allowed to take the position of leading the Stratton Micro-Society?” Perhaps I am getting my thoughts all mixed up, or maybe I am using the wrong words. But from what I gather, it sounds like the CFT recently did something to make sure this position was filled by a certified teacher.

    I appreciate how you described the CFT’s role during the beginning years of Stratton and how you lobbied for a better environment. I am curious, though, why is “enrichment” not as good as additional instruction? I ask out of ignorance. Also, how does one hire experienced teachers if the pool is limited to those still wet-behind-the-ears? 🙂 Is it reasonable to just not hire anyone? What am I missing?

    Let me also state that it is not my purpose nor my intent to go around poking holes in various entities. I think you, Greg, probably also share the same intent; to look back at history as a tool to help us learn what we can do today to prepare for a better tomorrow.

  3. papa@home Says:

    This report isn’t exactly the way I’d put it (sorry Charles).
    To take the second issue first, I think the issue in hiring community people is union rules and bureaucracy. It seems that there is simply no “spot” in Unit 4 for employees that are not either teachers, support staff or management/ admin. Should a school need different people, where do they fit in? I heard that Edison had funding for a position and rather than fill it with a teacher, it was used to hire an intervention specialist. There must be some flexibility if this example is true. Ultimately though, it is still just shuffling around the same categories.

    To be specific, I worked on the Stratton Magnet Grant Committee (for well over 100 volunteer hours) as the parent/ community rep. I have interest and knowledge that makes me a viable candidate for magnet coordinator. Even before the grant was submitted I was told that the person who fills that role must be a certified teacher. There is no reason for that other than, 1. those are the positions that Unit 4 knows how to deal with (existing salary schedule, etc.); 2. Negotiated contract limits roles outside of certified teacher (union work rules); 3. Inflexible administration – but why would they be inflexible in theory – before the grant was even submitted?

    I’m not upset about it. The person they got is great and I’m proud of all the magnet specific hires. But I’m analyzing the data and drawing conclusions about how the SYSTEM works. And for the record (though this seems too personally specific for such a post) I hope to be hired as a temporary fill-in which does show some creativity and flexibility even within the system.

    On to the other Stratton issue – Extended day. This was an issue every year, especially for the three years before it was eliminated. It was debated within the building and a constant source of discussion. Perhaps, Greg, you know the inner administrative workings but I know the context and that’s why we see this differently. I am unaware of a union role in this decision. It seems logical to suppose that the union weighed in but I don’t know anything about if or how. I do know that in the several surveys done at Stratton, the consistent result was that parents liked the extended day and teachers did not (I’m sure there were parents who didn’t and teachers who did). Many teachers didn’t feel the stipend was fair in light of the money high school teachers get when they voluntarily extend their work day. I know that many teachers didn’t like that individuals could NOT opt out of an extended day. If you worked at Stratton, you worked longer days than the rest of Unit 4 teachers. I know that many of the Stratton teachers would rather have the extra time than the extra money. (Reminder – this is all past tense, extended day was eliminated two years ago). I also know that the Consent decree mentioned Stratton specifically; I don’t recall if it specified an extended day. It wasn’t too long after the Consent Decree concluded that the BOE needed to cut costs and a big chunk, unpopular with the teachers, was Stratton’s extended day. All that to say, at a school with lots of minority students struggling to achieve, the opinion of the community didn’t count for much. Other considerations played a larger role and the extended day is gone.

    And just to get this out on the table, I have no trouble imagining that instrumental music parents, parents of athletes and others were more vocal and organized than was the Stratton Community. I understand the BOE was indeed responsive in times of budget cutting. Sometimes though, the people who shout the loudest aren’t really the ones who need it most.

    In my opinion, leadership involves “selling it” to the people who matter. The MLK quote I have read most often this year is “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” Stratton – and every school – must have leadership that stakes out a position about what it needs and then calls its community to that vision. Of course teachers want to be with their kids (I do too!). Is there someone asking them for their commitment? Is there someone holding out the possibility that their sacrifice (while acknowledging and appreciating that it is very real) will have a monumentally important impact of the lives of current students? If people don’t see their contribution as important, why would they bother? If teaching is just a job, they would go do something else.

    We can’t allow our teachers, the most precious asset we have in our schools, to feel unimportant. At the same time, if the schools aren’t responsive to the community in which they are situated, we’re simply marking time.

  4. pattsi petrie Says:

    I read this important dialogue with great sadness. The sadness is caused by the fact that the system and the over all results thereof has not changed for 4 decades. Yes, 3-4 decades ago, the same conversations were happening in this community. To paraphrase Carvalle who during the Clinton campaign keep saying “it is the economy stupid”; well in this case, “it is the system stupid.”

  5. charlesdschultz Says:

    Chuck, you apologized to me?!? You’re doing it wrong, dude. No, I apologize. I misrepresented. But in some ways I rather write something that is not 100% correct in this medium than say nothing at all – it brings stuff out of the woodwork. *grin*

    Not knowing much (as in, none) about the history of Carvalle or the phrase, I had to do a little googling about stupid economies. Or was it stupid readers? Wait, who is the stupid one? So taking that heartfelt phrase to heart, let us focus on the system. What exactly about the system needs to change? Yes, I have my own thoughts and my own ideas, and I am working towards those ends. But I only have a piece or two of the puzzle. I would appreciate more pieces.

    To that end, I have been talking about going to other people (ie, people not like me) and other neighborhoods simply with the intent of learning, observing, listening. And yes, that freaks me out. I mean, first the performance anxiety hits in; “What the heck do I say?” Where do I go? Then it hit me, why not just go to the Rose & Taylor Barbershop. Not necessarily the Community Forum, but to the barbershop. I need a haircut anyway (those of you have seen me have probably been thinking the same thing :)).

    Chuck, when you mention the need of each school needing a strong leader reminded me of earlier discussions, and even Mark Aber’s Climate Surveys/Studies (both of them), of how Administration has not, in the past, encouraged (or, rather, just downright squashed) strong leadership at the school level. I do see examples of principals kinda sorta breaking out of that mold. For example, Franklin’s Angela Smith. I am not privy to the marching orders, but she certainly has made a splash with her approach to leading Franklin, specifically in her involvement at a national level and whatever it is she is doing to engender a strong team behind her. Any other examples?

  6. pattsi petrie Says:

    Just a suggestion–maybe it would fit into the ideas of this group to add to the list of discussion topics the information about increase of poverty in Unit 4 that was detailed in the N-G on 15 Jan. and how this integrates to the concerns being expressed on this blog.

  7. Greg Novak Says:

    Good Morning

    Some clarifications and additions on what I posted last week – as well as some new comments.

    Bear in mind that for most of my career in Unit Four – “I was in a “boots on the ground” role which made my views more towards the “nuts an bolts” level of solving problems. As a Board member I have moved to the other end of the spectrum – in which details are less specific – but decisions are more far ranging. However in all of the following comments I am after all expressing my OPINION,

    Going back to Stratton some additional back story is needed. Unit Four like almost all school districts pays teachers on a matrix consisting of “lanes” based education degree’s held – and “steps” – based on years of experience – a pay structure similar to that used by the US military or civil service.

    Prior to 2000 Unit Four like other school districts capped the number of years of experience that one could bring with a new hire. From one to five years experience Unit Four gave full credit. From six years experience to fifteen years Unit Four gave a half-year credit. For experience over fifteen years, Unit Four gave no credit.

    Thus a new hire with 2 years experience was placed on step two, a teacher with eleven years experience was placed on step eight (5 + 6/2 = 8), and a teacher with 20 years experience was placed on step ten (5 +10/2 = 10). Experienced teachers would wished to move into Unit Four would have to take a pay cut, even if Unit Four offered higher salaries across the board.

    By 2000 Unit Four was seeing the effects of the retirement wave as the teachers hired in the 1960’s and 70’s were leaving – and some areas were becoming hard to fill. So in 2001 the district negotiated a change in the contract that allowed all NEW Hires to be given year for year credit, so a teacher with twenty years experience would be placed on step twenty – so that for a number of hires they came into Unit Four with a raise in pay. (Since then the district has negotiated a cap of twenty years for all new hires – as that is the current top step on the salary schedule.)

    This meant that in 2002 as the district was seeking staff for Stratton there existed the ability to recruit experienced staff into the building – as someone from say Danville, Decatur, or Urbana could often get a substantial raise by joining Unit Four. The stipend for the extended day of $5000 would have been on top of that – and the CFT tried to make that stipend $8,000 – but the District refused to pay out more than $5,000. (The $8,000 figure would have brought the Stratton teachers in line with the High School numbers.)

    Since at that time the new principal of Stratton had yet to be decided, I joked that whomever that person was, that they be given a pirates hat, an eye patch and a hook, and be sent out to raid for teachers to attract to Stratton. Instead of that happening the majority of the staff that was hired was new or teachers with less than five years experience. As to why that happened I will leave up to others to explain, though I have my views.

    This relative lack of experience impacted the enrichment program offered in the extended day. While Stratton had two experienced (and excellent) full time Enrichment teachers assigned as part of its program, the vast majority of the program was effectively organized on the fly, with no set curriculum, so the quality of the additional hours program varied from teacher to teacher. In some cases there were excellent programs – in other cases it was an extended study hall.

    On issues of hiring staff, and determining what the qualifications are – the district gets to do that in the writing of job descriptions. In the case mentioned of replacing a teaching position at Edison with a behavioral specialist, the new post of behavioral specialist is still a teaching position. Principals in Unit Four have some leeway in how they use their teaching positions – a position this year for a behavioral specialist could be converted into a social worker or special education position at the principal’s direction.

    There are four classifications of jobs in Unit Four – and the District has the sole right to determine in which area a job is created. Two of the categories are directly controlled by the State of Illinois – those that require state certificates. The third category – non certified is all bound by state and federal regulations, and the school district must ensure that its employees meet those requirements.

    Jobs can be administrative – in which case the candidate must hold a type 75 certificates issued by the State of Illinois to supervise certified staff (teachers). There exist a small number of administers that control non certified staff – ie food service, transportation services, and maintenance but they have no control over certified staff as per state law.

    The next category is certified teacher – which includes direct supervision of students – in which case the job posting will indicate what type of certificate from the State of Illinois is needed. Their existence categories of elementary teacher, secondary teacher, as well as special certificates for areas like librarian, social worker, guidance, multiple special education areas, speech, etc. The requirements for these certificates are determined by the State Board of Education, and the Regional Offices of Education are required to inspect school records each year to ensure that any teacher holding a position has the proper certificate for his/her position. By state law a teacher may not supervise or evaluate another teacher – that task must be done by an administrator with a type 75.

    The next category is non-certified personnel, which includes teacher’s aides, cooks, bus drivers, janitors, secretaries etc. These personnel cannot be in direct charge of students as there MUST be either a teacher or administrator on whose shoulders the responsibility rests. Within the non-certified areas, teachers or other non-certified individuals may direct such individuals, but Unit Four requires that administrators must do all evaluations. Even here state and Federal guidelines and requirements exist. Under No Child Left Behind, Teachers aides must now have 60 hours of college – (effectively an associates degree) while bus drivers must pass a state mandated test and have special drivers license.

    The last category is DSP – District Support Personnel. This is neither fish or fowl, but covers those specialists that the district determines provide services found in none of the above areas. Again the district makes the determination – however they must comply with state and federal rules. Thus a member of the DSP can not supervise students, evaluate teachers, etc.

    If a job is posted as administrative or DSP – no other body is allowed to have a say in how the job requirements are made. If a job is certified, then the CFT has the right to review the requirements under the posting. If a job is non certified, then CESP (Champaign Educational Service Personnel) have a right to review the job requirements.

    Now the above may be impacted by other factors. In the case of the new Magnet School positions, these are funded by a Federal grant for this year and the two following. There well be requirements in these grants as to how it can be spent, and to whom expenses can be charged. I don’t remember what the grant said as it was submitted almost two years ago. However if the grant called for positions to be held by certified staff, then the district must do that or lose the funds.

    Sadly the State of Illinois has pulled back its support of alternative certification means for helping people become teachers by a means other then taking the traditional four year course. Milikin is the only college in the area that offers such a non traditional program that I am aware of, and I personally believe that this is a failing of the education system

    I hope that this helps keep the conversation moving forward.

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